The old adage reminds us that the best things in life are free. And while hugs and sunsets are fantastic, what about movies and college? They cost a small fortune.
The last decade has seen the emergence of a great “free stuff” movement as people are finding value in swaps and donations instead of committing things to the landfill — good for the economy and good for the environment. Craigslist has an active “free” section, and sites like Freecycle and yerdle offer places to trade, donate, and pick up stuff that is no longer loved or needed by someone else. But outside of the grassroots give-and-take culture, there are still plenty of ways to get free stuff and free services.
The following finds include a mix of promotions, DIY, public domain offerings, apps, and general sources and services that don’t cost a cent. Consider it free advice.
1. Garden seeds
Starting a garden can get pricey. But once established, the seed part is easy since, by their very nature, most plants are prolific givers. Until then, if you are starting a garden on a budget, see How to get free seeds for your first garden.
A service called HitBliss gives you credits to spend on movies or TV shows in exchange for watching of ads. And although to some this may sound sadistic, according to one writer at TechNewsDaily, the experience isn’t that painful. Once you watch the ads, you can view your show or movie without commercial interruptions, which is different than other services.
3. An education
With the average price of college ringing in at $22,261 for the 2012 academic year, the prospect of a free education seems improbable. But lo and behold, many hallowed halls of higher learning do, in fact, offer free online course. And we’re not talking about schools that are the educational equivalent of a mail-order minister certificate from a fly-by-night church. Among these 7 places where you can get a free online education are such honorable institutions as MIT, Harvard, Stanford and Yale.
4. Free cash
Even our own money costs money, as evidenced by the national average fee of $2.50 charged by ATM machines. If you withdraw cash twice a week, that’s $260 a year spent just to get your hands on some bucks. Of course, if you use you an ATM from your own bank, fees are generally waived ... so use an app like ATM Hunter (which was created by MasterCard but locates all banks) to find your nearest branch. Also remember that when using your debit card for a retail purchase, the “cash back” option often doesn’t incur a fee.
Project Gutenberg was founded in 1971 and is the oldest digital library. As of March 2012, it had more than 42,000 titles in its collection. Most of the items in the collection are the full texts of public domain books and they are all available to anyone for free. The most popular titles at the site are classics like Victor Hugo’s "Les Miserables" and "The Importance of Being Earnest" by Oscar Wilde. Downloads are available in a number of formats, including Kindle, EPUB and Plucker; they can also be read directly online.
6. Soup stock
Chances are that your expenditures on soup stock aren’t breaking the bank, but even so, you can have it for free. Yes, we’re talking homemade stock. Start by keeping a “scraps container” in the refrigerator and every time you have vegetable peels, onion skins, leek tops, herb stems, garlic ends and any other part of a vegetable that would otherwise go to waste, stick it in the container. When you have enough, sauté it all in olive oil in a deep pot for five minutes, add water, bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for an hour, add salt and pepper, and voila. Use it for soups, risotto, etc., or freeze for future use. For others way to put your kitchen scraps to work, see 20 uses for leftover fruit and vegetable peels.
Do you like being read to? If so, you can have it done for free without having to pay for an audiobook. The super cool non-commercial, nonprofit and ad-free project called LibriVox is on a mission to “make all books in the public domain available, for free, in audio format on the Internet.” They are fulfilling this dream by scouring the virtual stacks for public domain books, which are then read and recorded by a fleet of volunteers. Meaning, you get free books. If you love this and have a knack for reading, you can also volunteer to record books for the organization. See the nearly 6,000 titles available here.
8. Shoes, toys, apparel and many other odd things
If you have a roll of spare duct tape at your disposal, the variety of free things you can craft is limited only by your imagination. A scroll through 20 clever uses for duct tape may inspire you to create a unique pair of flip-flops, a vegan wallet, a curious costume and even a “statement” necktie.
9. Dinner out for your kids
Did you know that there are more than 5,000 restaurants in the country where kids can eat free? Many restaurants offer the promotion for nights when business is slow, which is a boon to parents who would appreciate a night off from cooking. See mykidseatfree.com for a state-by-state search of restaurants that want to feed your children for free.
When you join the Arbor Day Foundation, the nonprofit conservation and education organization that speaks for the trees, you get ... free trees! The foundation is the largest nonprofit membership organization dedicated to planting trees. For $10, you receive a six-month membership that includes a number of goodies, along with 10 free trees. You can mix and match which trees you want, or get a set, like the flowering tree package which includes two white flowering dogwoods, two flowering crabapples, two Washington hawthorns, two Eastern redbuds, and two golden rain trees. Visit the Arbor Day Foundation for the deal.
11. Car for a road trip
For the adventurous romantic traveler, few things are better than taking in the scenery via four wheels and the open road. Fortunately for road trippers without a vehicle, there are car-shipping companies like Auto Driveaway that match drivers with cars that need to be delivered to another state. You pay a refundable deposit and the cost of gas, and drive someone else’s car to the location where they need it.
12. Fresh greens
Do you have any invasive species taking over your backyard? Kudzu? Japanese knotweed? Purslane? It’s time to flip the script. Stop looking at them as dominant pesky weeds, and instead look at them as a free side dish. Read 5 invasive plants you can eat to discover which weeds take best to the sauté pan, including recipes for how to prepare them.
13. Household formulas
Technically these DIY items aren’t free, per se, since they require ingredients that you have already purchased. But that said, they are the next best thing to free since they cost so much less than packaged versions of the same and use ingredients that you may have no other use for otherwise. In 7 things you can make instead of buying, see how to make cleaning supplies, craft items and cosmetics, to name just a few of the free-ish things you can concoct.
14. A new language
Looking to learn French? Need to brush up on your Urdu, Czech or Icelandic? The ever-helpful Brits at the BBC World Service offer free online language lessons. They provide essential phrases in 40 different languages; and for Greek, Spanish, French, Chinese, Italian, German, and Portuguese, they give complete courses and phrases, audio and video, vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar, activities and tests. To the BBC: Tänan teid! (That’s “thank you” in Estonian.)
15. Fresh fruit
For a “pick your own” experience without paying for it at a farm (although we support that, too), there’s an app called Find Fruit. With an interactive database that includes the location of thousands of fruit trees on public land nationwide on a standard Google Map. That fresh baked apple pie is just around the corner.
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